by Janine Booth
A wise person once said that when there is a tragedy, a lot of poetry is written. The Grenfell Tower fire is no exception, as the new anthology, 'Poems for Grenfell Tower’ illustrates.
But the Grenfell Tower fire was not just a ‘tragedy’: it was an entirely avoidable mass killing, in which people died because they were working-class, in a building that had been clad in flammable material to save money and improve the view for its rich Kensington neighbours. Many of the poems in this book reflect that truth. It is an angry book as well as a sad one.
The London Underground Public Private Partnership (PPP) was one of the biggest political cons in post war British history. It squandered billions of pounds of taxpayers' money, leaving a legacy of cuts, job insecurity and high fares.
Yet as with all struggles the battle around the PPP produced positives. The fact the trade unions eventually won and were proven right has lessons for us today in the debate about how we resist austerity and fight for a better society. This book is an important conribution to the history of the PPP and that wider debate.
Bob Crow, General Secretary, RMT, 2001-2014
Attila the Stockbroker writes in his Morning Star column:
After the French gigs on Wednesday and Thursday I came back to Cambridge yesterday for a trades council gig with a very brave and talented woman.
I first met Janine Booth in 1983 when, aged 16, she interviewed me for her fanzine Blaze the evening after Brighton had beaten Sheffield Wednesday to reach the FA Cup final for the first and only time in our history.
She turned into a fine performance poet who joined our ranting ranks in the mid-’80s and then went off to work on the London Underground, become an RMT activist and have three lovely sons with her partner, fellow RMT militant John Leach.
Daniel recommends that you buy the book.
2016 has been a strange year so far. I'm writing this in late September, so I suppose it’s possible that some cataclysmically normal event might occur in the final few months of the year that will restore balance and make us think it wasn’t such an odd year after all. But, I doubt it.
This is a period in which doctors have placed themselves in the industrial vanguard of the working class, and a serial backbench rebel socialist MP has won the leadership of the Labour Party by landslides, twice. Strange times indeed.
Sometimes it has felt like the world was collapsing around us. Brutal wars across the globe, generating a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen for a generation, and a rising tide of nationalism that swept Britain out of the European Union. But in amongst the horror, always, the glimmers of resistance and hope – sometimes spectacularly expressed, sometimes more quietly, but always there.
This collection is an account of both the seeming collapse and the sparks of hope – as raucous, irreverent, simple, complex, poignant, funny, whimsical, and profound as a document of such a strange time should be.
These are poems, but they are also conversations between friends, workmates, neighbours, and comrades – a fitting register for a collection aimed fundamentally at chronicling human experience.
Some of the poems collected here, like ‘The Strike Train’, ‘If You Can’t Beat ’Em, Cheat ’Em’, and ‘The Eleventh Commandment’, were written in direct response to (indeed, in the service of) labour-movement struggles. Others, like ‘Wondering Eyes’ and ‘Man At The Border Post’, respond to global-scale world events. All express Janine’s deep commitment to working-class internationalism, socialist-feminism, disabled people’s liberation, and taking every opportunity to mock and lampoon the mendacity and hypocrisy of the rich and powerful.
Chroniclers of 2016: abandon your plans for a tedious TV talking-heads review of the year featuring Paul Ross. Read this book instead.
Daniel Randall (The Ruby Kid)
On Thursday 12 May, author Janine Booth and foreword-writer John McDonnell MP spoke at the launch event for 'Autism Equality in the Workplace: removing barriers and challenging discrimination', with contributions from two autistic workers and a parent of an autistic worker. Around fifty people attended.
Photos by Esme Bradbury, mostly.